Murder At Midnight: The Radio Show
~ Introduction To Old-Time Radio ~
Midnight, the witching hour when the night is darkest, our fears the strongest, and our strength at its lowest ebb. Midnight, when the graves gape open, and death strikes!
Murder At Midnight is one of the best arguments for exploring the lesser-known series of old-time radio. While not one of today's best-known shows, nor a title that often comes up in discussions of OTR, it is an imaginative and varied program produced by some of the most respected names in radio.
The director, Anton M. Leader, had honed his craft on such programs as the prestigious war-time series Words At War and the almost-lost The Whisper Men. After Murder At Midnight, in 1948-49, Leader would extend his career on the program Suspense, acting as both director and producer during the show's heyday, a period that included their foray into one-hour dramas with Robert Montgomery as host.
Being produced in New York, the casts of the syndicated Murder At Midnight never included big-name Hollywood stars, but it did feature the best of East Coast radio performers, names familiar to listeners of such shows as Inner Sanctum Mysteries. Among these names were such notables as Berry Kroeger, Ann Shepherd, Elspeth Eric, Karl Swenson, Mercedes McCambridge, and on at least two occasions, Inner Sanctum's former horrific host himself, Raymond Edward Johnson.
Louis Cowan, head of the transcription company that produced Murder At Midnight, was also able to gather a stellar group of writers to the program. He accomplished this by making what was, in 1946, a revolutionary offer: a flat fee per script, plus a percentage of the profits. As reported in the May 8th 1946 Variety, "Lou Cowan Inc. is inaugurating a special basic-price-plus-sharing-terms for radio writers. In connection with the new Cowan platter series, "Murder At Midnight", the practice is to pay $150 down per script and cut the writer in for 10% of the net profits on the bookings." ($150 in 1946 would be worth about $2,000 in 2018.)
Cowan's innovation and dedication would pay off handsomely, as his relatively new transcription company was able to produce a series that could hold its own against major network productions, that would find success in many markets in the decade following its debut, and that would still rank among the classics more than seventy years after its initial release.
Subject matter for Murder At Midnight extends across a wide variety of genres, from hard-bitten crime stories to tales of pure fantasy and abject horror. Between these extremes are strange hybrids of truth and fantasy, exploring the nightmare worlds that can only be conjured up in our own minds.
Many of the purely supernatural stories concern weird manifestations of the human body, such as the Oboler-style tale of Gorgo, the circus dwarf who discovers a growth serum in The Secret Of XR3, or the story of a scientist who converts his body into the heaviest elements in The Heavy Death. Another purely science-fiction episode that offers horror in a grisly 'Lights Out' style is Terror Out Of Space, a tale of remorseless killers, beings of pure electricity, riding radio waves to Earth.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are Murder At Midnight's pure crime stories, such as The Creeper, an oft-told tale of a killer of redheaded women, or Trigger Man, the well-executed tale of a man with a gun who has just six months to live, and consequently loses his fear of death. One interesting non-supernatural episode that relies on man's morbid voyeurism for its eerie impact is The Ace Of Death, adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson's fatalistic trilogy The Suicide Club.
The majority of the episodes are stories that blur the distinction between fantasy and reality, such as a wife's prophetic dream of her own murder in the episode Nightmare, and what may be a guilt-induced hallucination or what may be a terrible reality for one woman, in The 13th Floor. In both of these episodes, the question that is posed is which we should trust more: our reason, our senses, or the other-worldly. A compelling question indeed.
Fifty-two episodes of Murder At Midnight were produced for syndication by Louis G. Cowan Inc., most of which still survive, representing a healthy cross-section of the series' output. All of the extant episodes are rewarding listening, and offer a wide variety of stories, genres, and stars.
Sequencing Murder At Midnight:
Murder At Midnight has suffered, perhaps more than any other series, from neglect, abuse, and misinformation. Some episodes have been repeatedly uploaded bearing the name of a rare or missing show, despite the fact that the name of the episode is clearly stated about one minute into the program.
For example, mp3s of Death's Worshipper have often borne the name The Black Curtain, and Death Across The Board is regularly uploaded as both Dead Man's Turn and The Mark Of Cain, as well as the allegedly "never broadcast" episode Murder Across The Board. The Black Curtain and Dead Man's Turn are either very rare or non-existent on the internet, but The Mark Of Cain is included in the Murder At Midnight collection linked below (check your files; the first line of the real episode The Mark Of Cain is "You lifted the knife above your head, like this!").
Sequencing of episodes using broadcast dates is counter-productive, as this series was sold to many stations that could broadcast the episodes at any time that suited their schedule. In fact, Murder At Midnight first aired in early 1946, and by 1949 the series had been sold to 173 stations in markets ranging from eight thousand to eight million listeners. While most stations would likely have followed the suggested broadcast order, when the show ran on New York's WOR in 1950 they completely abandoned the initial sequencing of the episodes; the first eight shows they aired were episodes 1, 30, 11, 23, 8, 3, 28, and 43!
Murder At Midnight continued to be a money-maker for distributors of syndicated programs well into the 1950s, and this has led to episodes that were produced at almost the same time having dates linked to them that are several years apart, mostly ranging from 1946 to 1950. Even the premiere episode, The Dead Hand, has been dated as April 19, 1946, September 16, 1946, and May 1, 1950.
For consistency and simplicity, we have sequenced the programs using a source that lists all fifty-two episodes, the Library of Congress copyright catalogues of 1946 and 1947. These pages list all of the shows with their production numbers, copyright dates, and writer's names. While the mp3 file names in the ITOTR collection do include a date, it is not a broadcast date, but rather this date of copyright (thus explaining why more than one show can carry the same date).
Two versions of the copyright listings can be found behind the TEXT link on this page, one with only the Library of Congress information, and one with the cast lists and trivia added where available. The original LofC copyright catalogues can be viewed on Internet Archive via the links below.
For a collection of Murder At Midnight shows sequenced by copyright number, featuring more than half of the fifty-two episodes produced, and more information on the dating and sequencing of this series, click here.
Click the year to visit the Internet Archive page with the relevant Library Of Congress copyright catalogue pages, for 1946 (episodes 1-50) or 1947 (episodes 51 and 52).
Two text versions of the Library of Congress copyright catalogue information can be read or downloaded behind the TEXT link on this page, one with only the catalogue information and the other with cast info and trivia, where available.
A selection of advertisements and articles relating to Murder At Midnight can be found behind the ZIP link on this page. Note: If you have already downloaded the zip file from the 'Murder At Midnight - By Copyright Sequence' page, you already have the material contained herein.
To view the entire ITOTR collection, click here.
Murder At Midnight in the ITOTR collection:
The Ape Song
Raymond Edward Johnson,
Ruth Yorke, Brad Barker
Advertisement from the 1949 issue of Radio Annual
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